Adrenal Failure

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed:

What is adrenal failure?

The body has two adrenal glands, one sitting on the top of each kidney. They produce a number of hormones that are used throughout the body. Adrenal failure happens because of insufficient production of adrenal hormones. If these hormones are not being produced or the hormones that are produced cannot be used by the body, severe, potentially life-threatening adrenal failure results.

Adrenal insufficiency or failure can be caused by:

  • Androgen deprivation therapy for prostate cancer.
  • Radiation therapy to the adrenal or pituitary glands.

Adrenal insufficiency and failure often do not cause symptoms until the adrenal gland has been significantly damaged or there is a severe reduction in hormone levels.

Symptoms of adrenal failure may include:

  • Dizziness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Weight loss.

How is adrenal failure managed?

Blood tests are done to look for changes in hormone levels. Lab tests may also show low sodium and bicarbonate levels, and high potassium and BUN levels.

Patients with adrenal failure may be prescribed medications to replace the hormones the adrenal glands are not making. It is important to take these medications as prescribed.

When should I call my care team?

Adrenal insufficiency or failure does not have obvious symptoms until is very advanced. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, call your care provider.

References

Naziat A, Grossman AB. Adrenal Failure. In: Endocrinology and Diabetes. New York: Springer; 2014.

Sharifi N, Gulley JL, Dahut, WL. (2010). An update on androgen deprivation therapy for prostate cancer. Endocrine-Related Cancer. 2010; 17(4); R305-R315.

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